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The College Experience: There’s no greater danger than playing it safe

Photo: Kira Marie Ciccarone

Well before I began playing soccer competitively at age nine, I always had the ball at my feet on my elementary school playground.

Simply put, I love playing.

Beating defenders off the dribble at pace to set up a teammate or firing shots top-corner is a feeling I am constantly eager to encounter.

But what I love even more than scoring a goal or winning a game is competing with my teammates. Going to battle with a group that I feel a sense of pride in representing has always trumped competing alone for me. Some say that they play for themselves, or they play for fun, or that they love the game. For me, I truly enjoy playing the most when the stakes are high and I am being held accountable by my peers and coaches. The feelings of accomplishment and respect among people whose opinions I value are what drive me to work towards my goal of being the best soccer player and person I can be. Because above all else, I strive for improvement. And in order to do that, you have to create, make something out of nothing, and risk everything.

During the 2014 World Cup, Nike launched a campaign titled “Risk Everything.” The ad campaign featured all their signature athletes competing in the World Cup with one shining message: there is no greater danger than playing it safe. 

Long before Nike launched their campaign, I was using that motto in my own decision-making as a kid. That philosophy drove me to navigate the pressure-sensitive travel soccer world in my own terms as a young lad. 

Soccer in America, as you all may well know, is a hierarchy. If you want to go pro, get picked up by an academy, or get a D-I scholarship, you have to play for the best club team in your area. I knew this, yet when I was 12, I decided to leave my high-ranking travel team. Why? Because I wasn’t developing as a player.

The coach that I thought I was going to play for took a higher role at the club and left us with a replacement who was a far better player than he was a coach for young kids. I hardly played in our games, each of which was two hours away from home. I didn’t enjoy playing, dreaded going to practice for fear that I was going to be chewed out after a mistake, and — above all else — wasn’t having fun anymore.

From that point forward I played with creativity, passion, and, most importantly, took risks. Have I made mistakes and lost games since then? Hell yeah. But what I learned over time was that once I made a mistake the worst thing I could do was dwell on it.  

When I returned to travel soccer after taking a year off, I had a completely different outlook. So, when it was time to choose a college where I wanted to continue my soccer career, I made it a priority to seek out a college with a player-friendly environment. I didn’t want a drill-sergeant coach, nor did I want anything overly serious that would suck the fun out of the game. 

This, of course, led me to mostly Division III schools. I looked at a couple schools which for one reason or another just didn’t seem quite right.

But when I visited Rosemont College I felt like family. The members of the team were welcoming and made sure I knew every person on the team, where they were from, what they were from what they were like. 

So when I had to make my choice about where to play I chose Rosemont. I did it because I knew I would have a sense of belonging there and most importantly I knew I would have guys there that I’d want to compete with.

Now, as I count down the days until the beginning of my third preseason at Rosemont, I have been reflecting on my college soccer experience thus far. I started every game freshman year until I was sidelined late in the season due to a concussion. I further cemented my role on our team in my sophomore season, when I was moved from my freshman position of right back into the center of the park commanding our backline.

Even though my first two seasons at Rosemont weren’t overly successful in the win column, I have learned a lot. And despite the lack of success, there is still no team I’d rather play for. Because that “risk everything” mentality I talked about? Our team believes in that wholeheartedly.

Going into the start of preseason on Saturday I plan to enjoy every second of it. I will probably try to dribble out of the back and meg a freshman. I plan to continue to risk everything on and off the field!

Why? Because there is no greater danger than playing it safe. 

In my next post, set for two weeks from now, I’ll update my feelings about our team’s dynamic, pre-season practices, the adventure that is eating and cooking in college, my class schedule, and how we are preparing for our season-opening tournament at Swarthmore College.  


  1. Thanks for writing! Our eldest played at Hobart and moved to LA with 2 other soccer players and they have been there since enjoying life out west. Our youngest is just starting his last pre-season at Washington College. D3 soccer has been a tremendous experience for both of them; in many ways better than for most playing at D1 schools. No player should get depressed (or take his life – as has happened) because they were rejected by D1 schools!

  2. Thanks for this, Will. Very nice to share your experience. I’m eager to read your next installment.

  3. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Thanks Will! I’m sure it varies greatly from team to team, but how would you equate the level of play in D3? Did you play in high school as well as club soccer?

    • Will Boehmer says:

      D3 definitely varies from team to team and conference to conference. From my experience playing at West Chester these last two summers, I’d say that the main difference between Division 1, 2, and 3 is the fitness and technical aspect of the game. Especially in the center midfield. But what it lacks in technical ability D3 makes up for in physicality, guys are very hungry.

      I did play in high school and found the transition from Downingtown West (Pennsylvania district 1 4A) to the CSAC (Colonel States Athletic Conference) not as far of a jump as I was anticipating.

  4. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Thanks Will, that sort of echoes what others have told us too, that very generally if you were a HS varsity player/starter you will most likely fit somewhere on most D3 teams. D2 would be 3-4 year HS starters with some 1st/2nd team league mentions. D1 being entire rosters filled with that “one player” everyone in the league knows about and your coach game plans for.
    I’ll caveat all of that by everyone we’ve talked to also adds that every college team and division is not at all equal and that there are many D3 and D2 programs that would give D1 programs fits.

    • Will, thank you for the very thoughtful article. Every path to a college team is different and it’s refreshing to read that your rollercoaster ride ended up working for you in the end.
      I would disagree however with Scott of Nazareth who says a high school starter is likely to find a place on most DIII or DII teams. That is simply nowhere near accurate. Men’s soccer at the collegiate level is arguably the most competitive sport in which to make a team — at any level. (tennis is also crazy competitive, and the teams are much smaller). Basically you are competing with every kid who ever played rec soccer – around the globe. If you are the best player on your team, and at least an all-conference level player, you might be a Div. III player. There are some bad teams out there that need to fill rosters. But in my state, some of the best players don’t play college soccer.

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